For those of us who live in South Africa, and in the larger cities in particular, we need not travel far to see firsthand the overwhelming need in our country. Whether it be at the traffic lights on our daily commute, outside our local drive thru restaurant or perhaps even closer to home; the men and women who work their way through our rubbish to find what they consider to be treasure amongst the junk we have discarded.
Personally, I find it very distressing and oftentimes I am left with an overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt that I have so much compared to so many. Guilt that I have in the past not done more to help.
Someone I know well, a South African who emigrated to the UK many years ago and who subsequently returned to her home country for family reasons, eventually returned to the UK within 2 years, saying that she was tired of the fact that she never seemed to have money in her pocket and was, on a daily basis, reminded of the overwhelming need in our country.
In short, she felt powerless to help anyone because she herself was struggling to meet her own financial needs. I am sure many of you can relate. I know there are times in my own life when I wish I could do more and give more to those who so desperately need it, yet I feel limited by my own financial demands.
With Christmas and the Festive Season fast approaching, I have thought much about what it means to give (what I can) to others around me, even to those whose need might not be obvious at first glance.
In their article for the Greater Good Magazine, a publication of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh, highlight 5 ways in which giving is good for us and our communities. Interestingly, research suggests that we don’t need to spend money in order to experience the benefits of giving – the same benefits come from donating to charities and other worthy causes or when we volunteer our time at, for example, a homeless shelter or an old age home:
1.Giving makes us feel happy
A 2008 study at Harvard Business School found that the participants’ happiness increased more by giving money to someone else, even though the participants initially believed that spending it on themselves would make them happier.
2.Giving is good for our health
Different research studies have linked various forms of generosity to better physical health and longevity, possibly due to the fact that giving helps decrease stress, which is associated with many health issues.
3.Giving promotes co-operation and social connection
Several studies have shown that when we give to others, our generosity is rewarded by others at some point down the line, whether by the same person or by someone else, which in turn promotes a sense of trust and co-operation in our social community.
4.Giving evokes gratitude
Whether we are the giver or the recipient of a gift, the gift itself can evoke feelings of gratitude which, research has found, is instrumental in experiencing happiness, good health and strong social interactions.
5.Giving is contagious
When one person gives, the benefit extends beyond the recipient of the gift; it inspires generosity in others as well. In other words, there is a ripple effect of generosity throughout a community.
Over and above the scientifically proven benefits of giving (and receiving), there is so much more that can be said, particularly as it relates to our beliefs as Christians.
Not surprisingly, there are 23 verses in the Bible related to giving. However, the verse that puts the Festive Season (or any time of the year, for that matter) in perspective for me, is found in 2 Corinthians 8 v 12:
“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”
Clearly then, giving to others is more than just the giving of our money. We can give of our time. Any other resources we may have. Even (and perhaps most importantly) ourselves.
A merry and blessed Christmas from my family to yours!